White House Rhetoric On Bipartisanship Echoes Clinton's In 2008

10/20/2010 11:17 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Sam Stein Senior Politics Editor, The Huffington Post

Faced with the likelihood of major Republican gains in Congress, the Obama White House is beginning to sound a bit like the jaded Hillary Clinton campaign during its 2008 nadir.

At a briefing for a small group of reporters on Tuesday, White House senior adviser David Axelrod was asked whether President Obama's presence in the White House is actually energizing Republican voters determined to add checks and balances to the government. It was a rhetorical question, to be sure. And the response, which focused mainly on GOP obstructionism, was dotted with cynicism (emphasis ours).

"When you have the other party who says they are going to use every device that they can to roll back the clock and they have the ability to write budgets and so on and use all the authority they have to do that, it is a prescription for problems. Now it could be that on Election Day a lightening bolt will come down and the skies will then open and people will be imbued with a new sense of responsibility and public spiritedness. I hope that's true. But I think it is fair to say that these guys have made it very, very clear that they want to roll the clock back and we have made it very clear that we are fighting to stop them from doing this."

It was hard not to notice that Axelrod's response echoes a memorable, bitingly sarcastic line from a Clinton campaign swing through Rhode Island in March 2008. Pressed then about the notion that candidate Obama would usher in an era of bipartisan cooperation, Clinton offered one of the election's more infamous rejoinders.

"Now, I could stand up here and say, 'Let's just get everybody together. Let's get unified,'" she said. "The skies will open, the light will come down, celestial choirs will be singing and everyone will know we should do the right thing and the world will be perfect."

"Maybe I've just lived a little long, but I have no illusions about how hard this is going to be," Clinton continued. "You are not going to wave a magic wand to make special interests disappear."

It would probably be unfair to say that Axelrod somehow vindicated Clinton's assessment about the difficulties of politics. During the campaign, neither Obama nor his aides ever said that bipartisanship would come with the flip of a switch.

But what Axelrod's comments do suggest is a political team that feels as frustrated and embittered by a prevailing media narrative as Clinton was in March 2008. Just as Clinton mocked the notion that her opponent could cure the nation's partisan divides, so too does the Obama White House scoff at the idea that the GOP will suddenly find an appetite for legislative compromise.